This is a brief mention of possible alternatives to what we have done with education. As usual, I do not claim to be an expert.
When I was at teacher training college, the ideas of Ivan Illich were in vogue. I have a very limited knowledge of Illich. I seem to remember that his book, ‘Deschooling Society’ (1971), was all about people learning what they needed or what they wanted and that there was a focus on South America. Looking him up on that wonderful educational tool, the internet, I find that his theme was de-institutionalizing (or deinstitutionalising) education; creating ‘learning webs’ through which learners could access peer support. Please again note that this is a gross simplification, a summary of a summary. If it at least stimulates one person to explore further it will be worthwhile.
At the time I was at college (1974-1978) there was a movement of ‘exchanges’: places where people could find others who could teach them, provide skills or swap goods. I imagine that this idea came from Illich.
A.S. Neill was also much discussed. He founded a school called Summerhill, where his ideas about self-regulation were put into practice. He believed that the school should fit the child, not the other way round. Again summarising very simply, pupils ran the school, taking decisions on rules. Lessons were not compulsory, but were traditional in style. It was primarily a private boarding school, which shaped the type of student who attended. There was much controversy at the time about the school, a lot of it based on misunderstandings. (Summerhill is still in existence, but this brief account should not be seen as relating to the current school.)
I’m not saying that I agree with either of these philosophies or that they should be adopted. However, I do think that there are elements which I would bear in mind, in the unlikely event of my having the power to ‘do something’ about education. The principal one is the shifting of the control of learning towards the learner. Closely allied is the power of collaborative learning, for example involving learning webs. I am also increasingly drawn to the idea of deinstitutionalising learning.
This is a list of talking points, not a new plan for education; it may never evolve to be a plan. Particularly it does not take account of the age of the learner. The needs of 5 year olds, 15 year olds and 65 year olds are all different. A glaring problem is the learner who does not want to learn.
Finally, I can do not better than to précis the views of that great educational theorist, Terry Pratchett. (Yes, really.) The late great novelist was asked for a piece on excellence in schools. His recipe was to build a library; to ensure that children had a basic grasp of reading, writing and enough maths to “know when a pocket calculator is lying”; to teach them to use the library (but not the internet at first); and to remember workshops and studios. (It is reprinted in ‘A Slip of the Keyboard, 2014)
I intend to pursue this theme further. Please comment.
All photos from Wikipedia Commons.Terry Pratchett picture by Stefan Servos (Stefan Servos) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)